Guest Commentary

Lawmakers should help communities before disaster strikes

Cindy O'Laughlin, R-Shelbina, Mo., is a Missouri state senator representing the 18th District. | Submitted Photo
By Cindy O'Laughlin, Missouri senator, R-Shelbina, 18th District
Posted: Jul. 7, 2019 12:01 am Updated: Jul. 7, 2019 12:23 am

Summer is usually a time of relaxation: The kids are out of school, the family gets together for barbecues, and farmers get into the growing season. It's supposed to be full of carefree and bright sunny days. However, here in Missouri and around the country, the summer of 2019 will be remembered as a time of devastation and struggling for the survival of our communities.

2019 will go down as one of the worst flooding years on record. Across Missouri, storms struck, water levels rose, levees broke and entire communities were flooded. Homes and businesses were destroyed, and our fields are flooded. We now face a long recovery period, one that will take years and billions of dollars. One of the most devastating consequences of these disasters are the threat they pose to rural infrastructure. Our communities depend on roads and bridges to deliver essential services and to keep our towns alive. Sales taxes for a town like Clarksville in Pike County help pay for flood fighting material, and when people can't get to Clarksville, revenues dry up. Even the loss of one major highway could crush a small town. That is why recovery efforts so often start on restoring access to roads and bridges.

After so many years of flooding, I have come to wonder whether our public infrastructure dollars are being invested as wisely as they could be. After every disaster, our local, state and even the federal government spends a fortune trying to undo the damage. As necessary as these dollars are in the aftermath, I have to ask myself whether they needed to be spent at all; whether smart investments in natural disaster defenses may have been the extra layer of protection needed to protect our infrastructure. I think it's time we ask: Could we be doing more?

I know Congressman Sam Graves and others are now pushing for federal funds to be invested in infrastructure designed to minimize damage caused by natural disasters. Most regions of the United States face some danger from a natural disaster, be it floods, tornadoes, earthquakes or hurricanes. It's not a question of "if" a disaster will take place, but a question of "when." There are simple things we can do now to avoid costly recovery costs later. This includes making our communities more flood resilient by reducing construction in flood plains, building up our roads and bridges and encouraging disclosure for property sales that have been affected by flooding in the past.

Specifically, the federal government must take action and approve investments that prioritize protecting communities against flooding. Rather than "breaking the bank" on recovery, pre-emptive measures could save taxpayers a fortune down the line. According to the National Institute of Building Sciences, every dollar spent on hazard mitigation yields $6 in future disaster savings cost. That is significant savings given the scope of many disasters.

This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. Infrastructure investments, especially pre-disaster, help solve many pressing issues: They save taxpayer money, they protect communities and they hasten recovery efforts. I ask for Congress to consider spending on these pre-emptive measures and to help mitigate natural disasters in the future. Our rural communities depend upon it.